Video of the Week: How do we Keep the Paris Agreement on Track by COP26?

The 25th Conference of the Parties, or COP25 as it is commonly known, got under way in Madrid on December 2nd and will continue until this Friday. It is an annual climate negotiation summit attended by parties to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The parties have met every year since the UNFCCC was signed and worked to draft different agreements to combat climate change. 

This year’s conference aims to flesh out some of the details left unsettled from the 2015 Paris Agreement; specifically, they intend to discuss provisions related to carbon markets, communication of adaptation efforts, international climate finance, and capacity building, among other topics. However, slow progress was made in the first week of the conference. 

Carbon Brief, a site dedicated to covering climate change issues, asked scientists, delegates, and NGO representatives in attendance what they believe needs to happen in the next year to keep the keep the Paris Agreement on track. Despite having loose enforcement mechanisms, the Paris Agreement remains a promising international agreement with the potential to help limit the impacts of climate change. 

In our Video of the Week, one of the interviewees, Harjeet Singh of ActionAid, highlights the urgency behind the Paris Agreement, stating that “The reality is that the global south is already facing climate emergencies. They are facing increasing numbers of cyclones, drought and rising seas, and they need to be supported now as we speak.”

Watch the Video of the Week to see even more perspectives on what needs to be accomplished by COP26 to keep the Paris Agreement on track:

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Roundup: Global Glacier Monitoring, Tourism and Public Management in Kenai Fjords, and the Development of an Austrian Glacier

Study Analyzes Strengths and Weaknesses of Glacier Monitoring Systems Around the World

A new study in Mountain Research and Development published earlier this year evaluates a set of country-specific glacier monitoring programs which are managed under a global framework. It did so with the aim of making data from such programs more easily accessible. The study was also meant to aid countries in improving their monitoring programs and finding gaps in the network of programs.

Read the story by Elza Bouhassira on GlacierHub here.

An aerial view of mountain glaciers in the Andes (Source: eae/Creative Commons).

Kenai Fjords National Park: Exit Glacier Area Transportation Study

In October, the Federal Highway Administration’s Western Federal Lands Division Office (WFL) published a report about insufficient parking, congested traffic, and the difficulties of creating bike lanes at some popular glaciers at Kenai Fjords National Park National Park in Alaska. The report offers a view into the dilemmas of glacier tourism and public management.

Read the full report here.

Exit Glacier from Herman Leirer Road (Source: NPS).

The Development of Austria’s Pitztal-Ötztal Glacier

The Alpine Association Austria, nature lovers, and the World Wildlife Fund are demanding that the development of the Pitztal-Ötztal glacier be stopped immediately, according to a story on Snow Brains published at the start of ski season in September.

“The Pitztal-Ötztal glacier complex plans to level an area the size of 90 football fields (64 hectares) on wild, rugged glacier landscape to form ski slopes,” Snow Brains reported. “For the construction of new buildings, two football fields (1.6 hectares) are to be removed from glacial ice.”

Read the story here.

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Large storage potential in future ice-free glacier basins

Study Analyzes Strengths and Weaknesses of Glacier Monitoring Systems Around the World

A new study in Mountain Research and Development published earlier this year evaluates a set of country-specific glacier monitoring programs which are managed under a global framework. It did so with the aim of making data from such programs more easily accessible. The study was also meant to aid countries in improving their monitoring programs and finding gaps in the network of programs.

Glacier monitoring is crucial to research in glaciated areas because glacial melting influences energy production, natural hazard prevention, freshwater supply and irrigation downstream of glaciers. Nadine Salzmann, a glaciologist at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, told GlacierHub that such monitoring is critical because “we need clear and ‘relatively easy to understand’ climate indicators and monitoring is a fundamental part of any glacier research.”

Mauri Pelto, a professor of environmental science at Nichols College, told GlacierHub that in the context of this paper, the term glacier monitoring refers “to annual measurement of glacier mass balance, frontal position and completion of glacier inventories that are shared as part of the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) network.” 

The authors of the study used the Global Terrestrial Network for Glaciers (GTN-G) framework, an internationally coordinated framework for the monitoring of glaciers, to assess all glacierized countries’ glacier monitoring systems. GTN-G is jointly run by three organizations dedicated to studying snow, ice and glaciers which are based in Switzerland and the United States. 

The GTN-G framework was selected because it provides quantitative and comprehensive data on glaciers around the world. It includes ground-based studies at individual glaciers and remote sensing studies using technology like satellite imaging to better understand groups of glaciers in mountain systems.

Tier 1Multicomponent system observations across environmental gradients
Tier 2Extensive glacier mass balance and flow studies within major climatic zones for improved process understanding and calibration of numerical models
Tier 3Determination of glacier mass balance using cost-saving methodologies within major mountain systems in order to assess the regional variability
Tier 4Long-term observations of glacier length change data and remotely sensed volume changes for large glacier samples within major mountain ranges to assess the representativeness of mass balance measurements
Tier 5Glacier inventories repeated at time intervals of a few decades using remotely sense data

The GTN-G framework has five tiers of factors which it monitors to assess the status of glaciers (Source: Box 1, Worldwide Assessment of National Glacier Monitoring and Future Perspectives)

The results gleaned from the GTN-G framework are significant because the effects of worldwide glacial melting will ripple across populations reliant on glacial meltwater. Melting will impact the lives of millions whose drinking water supply and irrigation-dependent agriculture will be disrupted as the glaciers melt. According to the study, 140 million people live in river basins where at least 25 percent of the annual runoff comes from glacier melt.

Christian Huggel, a professor of Glaciology and Geomorphodynamics at the University of Zurich, told GlacierHub that “glacier monitoring in many ways stands out as a starting point for different impacts downstream of melting, e.g. river runoff/water resources and different populations and economic sectors that depend on it.”

Glacier monitoring programs increase the data available on the status of glaciers and the roles they play in their ecosystems. When a community in a glacial ecosystem has greater awareness of its dependence on glacial meltwater, it can be prompted to adapt to the changes occurring and to prepare for some of the hazards that come with glacial decline like short-term flooding and long-term drought. 

“Local communities, national governments and global/international organizations need to understand how their glaciers, which are important sources of water, among others, respond to climate change, how they change and decline,” Huggel told GlacierHub. 

A glacier in Switzerland’s Zmutt Valley (Source: cvtperson / Creative Commons).

The research team created country profiles for 34 nations and four regions independent of national boundaries. They highlighted three of the country profiles which show that variation in national systems. The first example was Kyrgyzstan. Under the Soviet Union the country had a well-established monitoring system that was abandoned for about two decades before being partially revived. The second was Bolivia; it began a monitoring program, but suffered the loss of one its benchmark glaciers when it melted entirely around 2009, limiting their ability to make long-term comparisons. Switzerland was the third example. The Swiss program is described as one of the most well-coordinated glacier monitoring programs with secure funding, long-term planning, and enough glaciers included in the network that it is not at risk of losing its benchmark. 

The detailed information compiled on each country’s glacier monitoring system is intended to raise awareness of the challenges facing each system and to illuminate what future needs might be to maintain them. The study states that countries in Europe and North America, and Chile, China, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia seem to have more stable programs while those in Asia and South America will require support. 

Salzmann stated that she “would like to see more direct financial support for countries to take these measurements and that funding should maybe depend on sharing of the data.”

The results also break down information on monitoring systems by continent and provide suggestions for what each continent’s system should improve on. For instance, in South America glaciers cover about 31,000 square kilometers of land and are important to the freshwater supply of many communities. However, the glacier monitoring network is incomplete and the study calls urgently for more complete glacier inventories. 

An aerial view of mountain glaciers in the Andes (Source: eae/Creative Commons).

When asked about the importance of sharing glacier monitoring system related data openly among the countries affected by glacier melt, Pelto told GlacierHub that “it is useful now and this would be enhanced by more comprehensive reporting of glacier measurements to WGMS.” He elaborated, citing studies whose important conclusions were only reached because data was shared among glacierized countries. 

Earlier this week, Nature released a letter signed by more than 35 scientists urging the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to increase their support for international cooperation in glacier monitoring efforts. Pelto was one of the co-signatories. Levan Tielidze, a glaciologist at Tbilisi State University, who has written about the effects of glaciers melting in Georgia, was also party to the letter.

The study is meant to function like a springboard for scientists and decision-makers as they work to improve glacier monitoring systems. The authors hope that their research will provide a valuable source of information in that process. It is also intended to highlight gaps in glacier-related data to avoid ill-informed decision-making that could have negative consequences for the people whose lives are impacted by glaciers. The authors call for all glacierized countries to submit their glacier data to repositories with open-access within the GTN-G community so that different communities can learn from each other. The authors also hope that the study will act like a baseline for global glacier monitoring and be repeated at regular intervals to report on developments on the subject. 

Huggel emphasized the importance of the study with regard to global climate policy: He stated that the “monitoring of glaciers and their decline permits national governments to defend their case in front of the international community (like at the upcoming COP25 conference [an annual meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change].) He underscored the importance of glacier monitoring, saying that “only through documented monitoring of glaciers can [national governments] make a case how showing much they’re impacted by climate change.”

‘Landscapes Need a Voice’: GlacierHub Speaks With Photographer Fiona Bunn

Fiona Bunn is a professional alpine photographer whose work has been displayed in London, Milan, and Zermatt. An avid hiker and climber, Bunn spoke with GlacierHub writer Elza Bouhassira about the inspiration for her most recent exhibition in Guildford, England and her ideas about the role of a photographer in a world increasingly shaped by climate change.

GlacierHub: Can you talk a bit about your exhibition? How does it build on your past work?

Bunn: Going back in time, what motivated me originally was that I’ve always spent a lot of time in the Alps, even as a child I always visited them. Around seven years ago I had quite a shocking experience when I was in the Alps; I took some photographs and could see a profound difference in the glaciers. I’m not sure why I suddenly saw that. Perhaps it was because I had been visiting at different times of the year.

After my shock seven years ago, I felt quite motivated to start developing a conversation. Initially a lot of my work was in black and white. It was quite stark. But as I engaged more with people, I came to realize that photography is as much a journey for me as it is for the people who are looking at it. 

The first exhibitions I did were quite stark, they were in more artistic exhibition spaces. I was in the Milan Expo, and then I did a couple in London. An exhibition I did in the summer was in a very commercial environment. It was in Bond Street in London. The exhibition I’m doing now is in a more spiritual environment. It’s actually in a church. It’s part of a heritage weekend that they’re doing, and the weekend is also part of the liturgical season of creation, which is all about the web of life, about the interconnectedness of nature, and the impacts of climate change. For me it’s a big exhibition, to take over a city center church and to have this opportunity, really, it’s great.

GlacierHub: Can you talk about the upcoming exhibit?

Bunn: It’s a church in Guilford. It’s a 10th-century church. It’s a bit of an artist’s dream because it’s in a state of disrepair at the moment since they’re doing a lot of building work on it. The structure itself is undergoing a lot of change so the pictures of mountains are almost replacing the windows of the church—the windows are covered up due to the construction. People are seeing nature come into their environment where stained glass would usually be, which is really nice. There are 15 images, each about 1.5 meters by half a meter. It’s a beautiful space. And educationally it’s great too because they’ve got lots of children helping, the local Brownies Guides are doing a pop-up cafe. So there’s going to be a lot of young people there and it’s just a great opportunity to engage with a different audience.

Exhibition visitors peer at Fiona Bunn’s alpine images. (Source: Fiona Bunn)

GlacierHub: How do you decide where to shoot? 

Bunn: I like to go back to the same set of places because I’m trying to record change. I try to build relationships with people because I want to focus more on education going forward. Since I’m also a climber, I tend to choose places that are very high up.

And image of the Matterhorn, the most iconic summit in the Alps.
(Source: Fiona Bunn)

GlacierHub: Do you use any filters or post-processing as part of your creative process? 

Bunn: I don’t use any filters and, in post production, just a little bit of cropping. I’ve got quite a basic camera to be quite frank. I tend not to use polarizing filters. I’m a bit of a nightmare for other photographers because if I can climb it, and I can just sit here and I can photograph it, then I’m happy and I’ll do that. 

GlacierHub: Why do you shoot landscapes? 

Bunn: The landscape of the Alps is so beautiful. People ask why I go back to the same places; it’s because every time I go it’s different, the sky’s different, the sunsets, the experiences, the people I meet. I always think of people like John Muir who just basically hung out in Yellowstone National Park most of his life. There is something in that because it’s about getting to know people, and the community and building links that will be part of my artistic process of recording what I’m seeing and experiences I’m having. Personally, I try and capture exactly what I see with a little bit of cropping. What you see is what you get with me.

GlacierHub: Most of your images focus on landscapes and mountains. Is it a deliberate choice to omit animals and humans?

Bunn: I feel that landscapes need a voice at the moment. I do photograph quite a bit of wildlife, but I don’t always put those into my exhibitions. I think there’s probably quite a lot of work that can be done around tracking the effects of what’s happening on wildlife. 

GlacierHub: What do you think the role of a photographer is in a world confronted by climate change?

Bunn: I think photography opens a door to conversation. It’s a tool for communicating experience. I think artists have a profound responsibility. 

I think different artists have different signatures in their work. Some people call them motifs. One thing that I think all artists who have any interest in climate change can say is that the subject profoundly touches you to the extent that you make it the central pivot for your work. What I’ve seen has impacted me to the extent that it has become part of the signature in my work. It’s become very important to me. 

I feel the artistic community has a real role to play in that we have different voices, and together we can reach people. I sometimes worry the message isn’t clear, that there is still a lot of confusion about the message. I think we’re still fumbling our way through this, trying to figure out what are we trying to say. 

Dent d’Herens, over 4,000 meters in elevation, lies in the Pennine Alps between Switzerland and Italy and is host to retreating glaciers.
(Source: Fiona Bunn)

GlacierHub: Do you think beautiful pictures make people complacent rather than provoking them into action?

A: I think we need a combination of both, which is why I think that when different artists work together it’s quite powerful. I’ve always thought that a collective approach is really important. I would say that the more artists who have different approaches, but who are essentially working toward the same goal, the better.

Also, if you show a beautiful picture, you can put powerful words along with it. It’s shocking and it makes me extraordinarily angry to see what we’re doing to the environment. But I know I am not going to reach people with only very stark images. I need to show people the beauty of mountains and that they will not exist the way they do now in the future. Sometimes I wonder whether my work will end up being purely a historical document for people to reflect on in thirty years once the ice is no longer here. If that’s what I end up doing, then I’m prepared to do that. I want to start documenting the people who live there too, because I think that’s important too. John Muir and Ansel Adams, artists I love and respect, they grabbed people’s attention because they cared enough about a place to just sit there and take photo after photo of it. I think things have changed now and I might just be creating a historical document. We can tell people they’re destroying the environment, but they know it. 

Environmentalism needs lots of artists. It needs a lot of us because one thing I have understood is that at first I saw my work as just me loving mountains and wanting to share them with people and warn them that these environments are not going to be like this much longer. I think what I’ve understood is that people love to go and look at art, to listen to poetry, to read stories. And I think this is the time for people who are artists to play on that interest. I think artists have a really important role to play in the process of addressing climate change, whatever their style within it.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

You can find Fiona Bunn’s photography on her website and on Instagram.

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The Funeral for Iceland’s OK Glacier Attracts International Attention

On August 18, about 100 people, including Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir and former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, hiked for two hours to attend a somber event. The gathering was in memory of OK Glacier, which had melted so extensively that, in 2014, scientists pronounced it dead. It is the first Icelandic glacier lost to climate change. 

To be considered a glacier, an ice mass needs to have movement. OK melted so significantly that it no longer had the mass to move under its own weight and so no longer met the criteria of a glacier.

The event received international coverage, appearing in Time, the Washington Post, the Associated Press, and the BBC, among other major publications. In a New York Times opinion piece, PM Jakobsdottir called the gathering “a local ceremony but a global story.”

“Glaciers are melting all across the world, contributing enormously to rising sea levels,” she wrote. “Himalayan glaciers help regulate the water supply of a quarter of humankind. Natural systems will be disrupted.”

Funeral attendees gathered around a rock on which a commemorative plaque was installed.
(Source: Gisli Palsson)

Two researchers, Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer, first proposed commemorating the loss of OK Glacier. The Rice University scientists produced a documentary called “Not Okin order to draw attention to the plight of the glacier. In the process of making the film, Howe and Boyer had the idea to hold a kind of memorial for OK, which is shorthand for Okjökull.

Howe and Boyer attended the August 18 commemoration.

Rice University researchers Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer produced a documentary film about OK Glacier. They pose next to a plaque commemorating the glacier’s demise. 
(Source: Rice University/Amy McCaig)

“As we neared the site of the lost glacier, we followed an Icelandic hiking tradition where you walk in silence, think of three wishes, and never look back,” Howe told GlacierHub in an email. “Completing that last 100 meters in silence was exceptionally poignant. We were stepping forward, to be sure, but also reflecting on what it means to say goodbye to the world that we have known.”

Rice University researcher Dominic Boyer holds the plaque commemorating OK Glacier before it is installed. 
(Source: Rice University/Amy McCaig)

Once the participants reached OK, they reflected on the tragedy of OK’s disappearance and on the need to protect existing glaciers.

“At the site of the memorial we had words of recognition, remorse, and— more than anything—calls to action,” Howe said.

Echoing the sentiment, Robinson told the Associated Press: “The symbolic death of a glacier is a warning to us, and we need action.”

OK’s demise and the commemoration in Iceland has already had ripple effect. On September 22, mourners will gather at a funeral for the Pizol Glacier in eastern Switzerland.

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Photo Friday: The Power of Stories by the Global Oneness Project

Story telling can be a powerful tool in sharing unique human experiences between individuals. A good story is thought-provoking, captivating, and can have the power to influence and inspire people and their ideas.

The Global Oneness Project believes that stories play a very important role in education. This nonprofit provides lesson plans, images, films, and other educational resources for classrooms for free, with a goal to connect people through stories on issues such as climate change, food scarcity, and migration.

“Through featuring individuals and communities impacted by these issues, the stories and lessons provide opportunities to examine universal themes which include the following: identity, diversity, hope, resilience, imagination, adversity, empathy, love, and responsibility, and our common humanity.” they wrote on their About Us page.

Stories and lesson plans by the Global Oneness Project have been featured on numerous publications, including National Geographic, PBS, and TED Ed.

One of the project’s lesson plans is based on a photo essay by Camille Seaman, an award-winning photographer based in California.’Melting Away‘ features images of the rapidly melting icebergs in the polar regions of Svalbard, Greenland, Iceland, and Antarctica. In her essay, Seaman shares her personal experience of traveling across these regions, and witnessing the consequences of climate change.

Check out images from Seaman’s photo essay below.

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Iceland to Commemorate the Demise of Okjökull Glacier

Iceland is home to hundreds of glaciers, but in 2014 the number fell by one: the former Okjökull glacier was the first Icelandic glacier to melt due to human-caused climate change. 

Ok in August 2018.
Source: Gísli Pálsson

On August 18, 2019, an event will be held to install a monument to the lost glacier. It was organized primarily by a group of researchers from Rice University in Houston. Participants will include geologists, authors, members of the Icelandic Hiking Society and the general public. In a press release from Rice University, anthropologist Cymene Howe who produced a documentary about Ok said, “by marking Ok’s passing, we hope to draw attention to what is being lost as Earth’s glaciers expire. These bodies of ice are the largest freshwater reserves on the planet and frozen within them are histories of the atmosphere. They are also often important cultural forms that are full of significance.”

During the event, which the organizers have termed an Un-glacier Tour, a metal plaque will be installed which reads “Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier. In the next 200 years all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.” The words were written by Icelandic author Andri Snær Magnason who will be present at the ceremony. Howe also said that it is the first monument to be installed for a glacier lost to climate change.

The plaque that will be installed on August 18. 
Source: Rice University

The plaque also lists the carbon dioxide concentration “415 ppm,” referring to the concentration recorded in May 2019 at Mauna Loa Observatory. 

Ok is now considered dead ice. Director of the North Cascades Glacier Climate Project, Mauri Pelto told GlacierHub that “stagnant ice that no longer moves is dead ice; a glacier by definition has movement.” In other words, glaciers continuously build up new ice and flow as a result of that process. When an ice mass loses has those qualities it can no longer be called a glacier and is instead dead ice.

“Iceland is not the first country on our planet to lose a glacier due to increasing climatic changes, and it is not the last,” geographer M Jackson told GlacierHub. She continued, saying “we are losing glaciers worldwide at unprecedented rates.” Other countries that have already lost glaciers include Bolivia, the United States, and Venezuela and many other places are on their way to losing their glaciers.

Despite the unfortunate prevalence of glacial retreat, the loss of a glacier in Iceland is particularly poignant because of the country’s relationship to its ice and glaciers. Icelandic anthropologist Gísli Pálsson told GlacierHub he thinks glaciers “have strong significance in Icelandic culture and history.” He elaborated saying, “there is a slogan about Iceland, ‘it is the land of fire and ice,’ the name ‘Iceland’ of course highlights the ice connection, and, historically, there have been scholars on glaciers, some glaciers have been travel routes and have been located between communities without any other connections so there were frequent travels across them for trading.”

Pálsson was a member of the first Un-Glacier tour in the summer of 2018. He described the day, saying “it was a long ride into the highlands and once we got there the mountain was covered with fog and it was a bit spooky. We started to walk uphill and soon the sky cleared. Once we got up there it was stunning scenery of the nearby mountains and we walked around the crater almost in a complete circle and could soon see the remains of the sleet and ice in the bottom of the crater.”  He said the tour was composed of about 20 people and they “talked about the climate, glaciers, and the history of this particular one, and plans for an event a year later which is now coming up.”

Pálsson explained that the person in the green coat is marking the GPS location of the stone so that when they returned a year later they would know precisely which stone was chosen for the installation of the plaque.
Source: Gísli Pálsson

With regard to the Un-Glacier Tour II, Pálsson said “I am unsure if I will be able to go this time, but I wish I could. I’m sure this first symbolic event of paying tribute to a gone glacier will be a well attended and significant event that will later on, with more glaciers under threat, be on record and flagged repeatedly.” M Jackson also had a positive response to the event and said “I’m grateful this memorial has been created, and hope such a stunt will encourage more social and political action to meet climatic changes in the days, months, and years to come.” 

The melting of Ok takes on one meaning for Icelanders and another in the broader context of climate change, but in both circumstances helps to increase awareness of the challenges that climate change will bring about as time goes on.

To Travel or Not to Travel

The chilly wind created by the speed of the boat whipped through the coat, sweater, and longsleeve shirt I wore, interrupting my thoughts on the impact my trip had on my carbon footprint. Only two other tourists stayed on the upper deck as the boat wound its way through a fjord in western Norway, near Bergen. The sun caught the top of every small wave, creating an expanse of shimmering water between evergreen-coated mountains. We were heading toward Mostraumen Strait on a popular tourist cruise in the Hordaland region.

From the tourist cruise to Mostraumen Strait.

The fjord was a deep and narrow body of water. Norway’s fjords formed during the last ice age over 10,000 years ago. Glaciers carved U-shaped valleys in coastal areas that were later filled with water as sea levels rose. The same process created fjords around the world in places such as Alaska, New Zealand, and Patagonia. 

Norway has one of the longest coastlines in the world at 58,133 kilometers, which has influenced Norwegian culture. Many of Bergen’s biggest tourist attractions are defined by their relationship with the sea. Some of the highlights of my time in Bergen were visiting the Norway Fisheries Museum, where I learned about the history of Norway’s hefty cod fishing industry, and hiking up to spectacular views over the fjords. Many tourists know of Bergen, Norway’s second largest city, as the gateway to the fjords and visit it specifically to see them, myself included.  

View from a hiking trail.

This summer, I was one of the millions of visitors Norway receives each year when I spent six days exploring Bergen and its surrounding fjords. A thought I was never able to fully escape during the course of my vacation touring Norway’s gorgeous, glacially-shaped landscape was whether the choices that led to me standing on the upper level of a ferry boat admiring the scenery were contributing to the destruction of modern-day glaciers that act on current landscapes.

On the way to Mostraumen Strait.

Retracing the steps that brought me to that boat reveals a long trail of emissions; one transatlantic flight into Paris, another quick flight into Bergen, a train into the city from the airport, and the boat ride itself are among the resource-consuming means of transport I used to reach the fjords.

The downside to travel is obvious: flights are among the most carbon-intensive activities an individual can possibly undertake. A 2016 study showed that about 3 square meters of Arctic sea ice area are lost for every metric ton of CO2 emissions. A flight from New York to Los Angeles, for example, results in the loss of 32 square feet of sea ice. Another study shows that the average American’s emissions will cause the deaths of two people in the future. 

But there are benefits to travel. Visiting new places has been shown to increase creativity and foster a stronger sense of self, while reducing stress and feelings of depression. Spending time abroad pushes people to leave their comfort zones and fosters a greater appreciation for the world outside of the familiar.

View over Byfjorden, Bergen.

One path away from the conundrum created by the conflicting pros and cons of travel is the purchase of carbon offsets. Carbon offsets aim to compensate for the emissions released over the course of, for instance, air travel by reducing an equivalent or greater amount of emissions elsewhere. Offsets can take the form of forestry projects or energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. To successfully counter emissions, offsets need to meet three criteria. They must have additionality—they need to be an action that would not have taken place if the money had not been received from the offset. They cannot have leakage—they must result in a net reduction of emissions. Lastly, they cannot be undone in the future—they must be permanent.

Some airlines like Qantas, KLM, and Austrian Airlines have programs in place to allow passengers to pay to offset their emissions. Third-parties like Gold Standard also exist to offset past emissions or to offset emissions created when flying with companies without such programs. Such programs place the culpability and responsibility to act on the passenger rather than the company that is producing the emissions and allows airlines to avoid implementing concrete emission-reduction measures.

The inconsistency of individual action led to the development of another approach: the UN Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) is designed to hold airlines accountable by requiring that they offset emissions from international flights that emit over 2020 levels of emissions. CORISA, which comes into effect in 2021, contains many loopholes, though, and is voluntary for its first six years, leading some experts to doubt its efficacy.

A small boat on one of the fjords around Bergen.

Carbon offsets seem like an imperfect way to temporarily address the emissions created by air travel. For the kind of travel that brings us to the places that make life worth living like going on a visit to family and friends or for essential business travel, investing in offsets is better than doing nothing. When offsets become a justification for extra journeys that would not have been undertaken without a belief in the remedying powers of offsets, their benefits are outweighed by the harm inflicted by greater quantities of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere and by the uncertainty of their efficacy.

Travelling, whether it is long or short distance, for business or pleasure, whether it is by plane, train or automobile, is part of the way we live. It fosters connections between people both by forging new links and allowing us to maintain ties to the past. If we were to give up travel in an increasingly globalized world, we would be giving up big and small life experiences that cannot be had by staying in one place. 

If the planes, trains, and boats I took to reach the fjords were powered by biofuels or renewable energy there would be far fewer emissions from my travels: the development of cleaner transportation would allow us to continue exploring new places without the ecological impact of today’s carbon intensive travel. Norway has become a leader in testing electric planes and predicts that by 2025 electric passenger flights could become a reality. Two-seater, all-electric planes are currently being used to train pilots by a Norweigian aviation firm. Until a large-scale shift becomes possible, Norway is imposing biofuel requirements on airlines operating within its borders to cut down on emissions. These initiatives demonstrate that there are options out there that may allow us to continue reaping the benefits of travel while minimizing the harm it inflicts on the people and places we are drawn to visit.

All images were taken by Elza Bouhassira. You can find her on Instagram here.

Rising Temperatures Have Doubled Himalayan Glacier Melt—Study

The Himalayas have a powerful impact on the lives of the people who live near them: They have cultural and religious sway, they play a role in determining regional weather patterns, and they feed major rivers like the Indus, the Ganges, and the Tsangpo-Brahmaputra that millions rely on for freshwater.

A new study published in the journal Science Advances by Ph.D candidate Joshua Maurer of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory concludes that glaciers in the Himalaya melted twice as quickly from 2000 to 2016 than they did from 1975 to 2000. “This is the clearest picture yet of how fast Himalayan glaciers are melting over this time interval, and why,” said Maurer.

Walter Immerzeel, a professor in the University of Utrecht’s department of geosciences, told GlacierHub that “the novelty lies in the fact that they go back until 1975.” He said that scientists already knew “quite well” what the mass balance rates were for the last twenty years or so, but that looking further back and over a wider area provided interesting new information.

Spiti Valley, which means “The Middle Land,” is located in the northern Indian province of Himachal Pradesh in the Himalayas. 
Source: beagle17/Creative Commons

Maurer and his co-authors examined ice loss along a 2,000-kilometer-long transect of the Himalayas, from western India eastwards to Bhutan. The study area includes 650 of the largest glaciers in the Himalaya and confirms the results of previous studies conducted by researchers who looked at the rate of mass loss in the Himalaya. 

The new study makes a major contribution by indicating that regional warming is responsible for the increase in melting. The researchers were able to determine this because mass loss rates were similar across subregions despite variations in other factors like air pollution and precipitation that can also accelerate melting.

Immerzeel agreed with the findings. “It is mostly temperature change driving the mass balances,” he said. “It can be locally enforced by black carbon or modulated by precipitation changes, but the main driving force is a rise in temperature.” 

The analysis was conducted using images from declassified KH-9 Hexagon spy satellites which were used by US intelligence agencies during the Cold War. The satellites orbited Earth between 1973 and 1980, taking 29,000 images that were kept as government secrets until relatively recently when they were declassified, creating a cornucopia of data for researchers to comb through.

Maurer and his co-authors used the images to build models showing the size of the glaciers when the images were created. The historical models were then compared to more recent satellite images to determine the changes that occurred over time. Only glaciers for which data were available during both time periods were included in the study.


A diagram of a KH-9 Hexagon satellite that was used to create the images used in Maurer’s study. 
(Source: National Reconnaissance Office)

The new study received widespread media attention. National Geographic, CNN, the New Yorker, and The Guardian, among other major publications, highlighted the study’s conclusion that mass loss in Himalayan glaciers has doubled in the last forty years.

Tobias Bolch, a glaciologist at the University of St Andrews, told GlacierHub the findings should be approached with caution. “The statement about the doubling of the mass loss after 2000 compared to the period 1975-2000 should be formulated with much more care.”

“[Scientists],” he continued, “need to be very careful presenting results about Himalayan glaciers and should communicate them correctly specifically after the IPCC AR4 error, and the wrong statement about the rapid disappearance of Himalayan glaciers.”

Bloch is referring to an error that occurred in 2007, when the IPCC included in its Fourth Assessment Report an inaccurate statement predicting that all Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035.

“It is a promising data set, but due to its nature there are large data gaps which need to be filled which makes the data uncertain,” Bolch said.

He added that there is “clear evidence” that mass loss has accelerated in the Himalaya.

A recent report by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, a regional intergovernmental organization in Nepal working on sustainable development in mountains, predicts that the Himalayas could lose 64 percent of their ice by the year 2100.

Maurer’s study examines only past melting from 1975 to 2016.  ICIMOD’s study provides additional dimension to Maurer’s results. 

A stretch of the Indus River. 
(Source: arsalank2/ Creative Commons )

The large amount of melting that may occur in the coming decades would result in greater quantities of meltwater entering rivers. The Indus River, which millions rely on for drinking water and agriculture, receives about 40 percent of its flow from glacial melt. An increase in meltwater could augment the risk of flooding of the Indus and other rivers in the region. 

Similarly, there may be a greater number of glacial outburst floods. Outburst floods occur when the moraine, or rock wall, which acts as a dam collapses. A collapse can take place for various reasons including if a great deal of water accumulates in a lake from a phenomenon like an increase in glacial melting. Depending on the size of the lake and downstream populations, among other factors, these floods have the potential to cause substantial damage. The largest of these floods have killed thousands of people, swept away homes, and even registered on seismometers in Nepal. 

Reflections in a glacial lake in Norway. 
(Source: Peter Nijenhuis/ Flickr)

Once glaciers have lost substantial amounts of mass and no longer have large quantities of water to release, the reverse will begin to cause problems: Rivers dependent on Himalayan glacial melt will diminish and drought may become more common downstream. This will negatively affect farming and development in the Himalayan region.

In both the short and long term, according Maurer and his colleagues, glacier melt in the Himalayas will have significant impacts on the livelihoods of those dependent on its towering peaks.

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Planning Meetings to Focus on Water Management in the Andean Region

The objective of a series of workshops on the Andean region is to generate learning, synergies, and develop inputs for the promotion of multipurpose projects (PMP) at the local-regional level that integrate management of water resources and risk management in a context of climate change. The workshops, titled “Exchange of experiences to promote multipurpose water projects as a measure of adaptation to climate change and risk management in mountain areas,” are organized by the Glaciers Project +.

Officials from Chile, Colombia, and Peru who work on issues related to climate change, energy, and water will meet to identify conditions for scaling up PMPs in the Andean Region and other territories. The workshops are expected to generate a roadmap for regional exchange on the PMPs.

Among the topics to be discussed during the two days of the workshops will be the problem of water in the Andean region, which will focus on the consensual construction of the multipurpose approach to adaptation to climate change, management of water resources and disaster risk in the framework of the NDCs. Discussions will also occur focusing on implementing PMP initiatives.

The workshops will be held in the cities of Bogotá and Santiago, the first of which will be held on April 9 and 10 in the Council Room of the Faculty of Rural and Environmental Studies of the Pontifical Javieriana University in Colombia. The workshop in Santiago will be held on May 2 and 3 at the facilities of the National Irrigation Commission.

This article originally appeared in Spanish on El Proyecto Glaciares.

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The Dead of Mount Everest Are Seeing the Light of Day

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The Dead of Mount Everest Are Seeing the Light of Day

Scaling Mount Everest is not for the faint-hearted. Located on the border of Nepal and Tibet, Mount Everest is the tallest mountain in the world, with a summit of 29,035 feet. Its extreme elevation not only increases the chances of incurring frostbite for climbers, but also reduces their oxygen intake, which has potentially significant health impacts like pulmonary edema and blood embolisms.

Avalanches and icefalls are also among some of the more life-threatening dangers associated with mountaineering, and these risks may become greater with increased warming. As of May 2017, the official number of fatalities recorded is over 270 according to World Atlas, with avalanches as the leading cause of mortality. Unfortunately not all the bodies of those who perished have been retrieved, due to the harsh environment. Many have vanished amid the ice and snow.

A view of Everest from Base Camp One on the Tibet side of the mountain, where some bodies are appearing. BBC reporting was done mostly from Nepal. (Source: Global Panorama/Flickr)

One of the perverse impacts of climate change, however, is that these corpses, scattered across the Everest slopes and long thought unretrievable, are now seeing the light of day due to rising temperatures and melting ice. Movement of the Khumbu glacier, where many of the dead bodies are appearing, has also contributed to the recent exposures.  Expedition operators and mountaineers have reported coming across more and more dead bodies that are being exposed because of fast glacial melting and reduced levels of ice, according to the BBC.

The discovery of these bodies is good news for families that may have lost a loved one on Everest, but it also presents some challenges for officials when deciding on proper response to the situation. According to the article, dealing with dead bodies, both logistically and emotionally, is not an easy task. Families who learn of recovery are also faced with a formidable series of administrative procedures. For Nepal, handling of the bodies requires government agency involvement, and according to the article, getting that involvement has been a challenge.

Recovering bodies is also very dangerous and costly. Ash Tshering Sherpa, former president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, said that one of the most difficult recoveries was from nearby the mountain’s summit, where conditions are severe and unsafe for rescue teams. Experts estimate the cost to bring down dead bodies from the mountain, which could be between $40,000 and $80,000.

“Green Boots,” an Indian climber who died on the Northeast Ridge of Everest in 1996, has become a famous landmark for climbers. (Source: Maxwelljo40/Wikimedia Commons)

Sherry Ortner, a distinguished professor of anthropology at UCLA and author of Life and Death on Mt. Everest, said mountaineering practices in the Himalayas have changed dramatically over the years. Decades ago, Sherpas never climbed Everest because they believed certain gods lived there, and scaling the mountain was seen as a religious offence. However, mountaineering and assisting climbers has become a part of Sherpa economy today.

She also told us that although finding dead bodies on Everest is nothing new, the issue now is the quantity of bodies, and how to handle the bodies with respect. “On the one hand, recovering bodies is very dangerous and difficult, and Sherpas risk their lives recovering dead bodies,” Ortner said. “On the other hand, the mountaineering practice is important for the economy, and some may be willing to recover a body for the income.”

The families want the bodies back and treated with respect, and the Sherpas would never treat the bodies with disrespect, added Ortner. The article points out that some bodies serve as landmarks for mountaineers, which may be disrespectful to the body and the families. Proper treatment of one who has passed varies from culture to culture. As Buddhists, Sherpas view cremation as the most respectful, and westerners may want to bury their dead.

Mountaineers often climb in groups for safety and support, sometimes accompanied by a member, or members, of the Sherpa community. (Source: Mark Horrell/Flickr)

Pasang Yangjee Sherpa, affiliated with the South Asia Center of University of Washington, shared similar sentiments. Sherpa also recently commented on the issue on a BBC Sounds program. She said the news was not particularly shocking, as the Sherpas have known about the bodies and melting snow for years. However, it’s starting a fresh conversation about proper management and disposal of the dead bodies from the mountain, and it calls out authorities to act.

Sherpa added that it’s important to remember Mount Everest holds a place in Sherpa religion—the Tibetan Buddhist goddess Miyo Langsangma resides there. “The issue here is that the dead bodies should be handled with care and respect each of them deserves to maintain the sanctity of the mountain,” she said. Sherpa also said that to the mountaineers, the bodies are more than just landmarks, and a serious mountaineer understands the dedication and sacrifice that comes along with the climb.

“For them [mountaineers], dead bodies tell stories of ambitions and accomplishments. They also remind them of the risks involved” said Sherpa.

May this news serve as a reminder to brave mountaineers to prepare and take proper precaution on their journeys to the top of Everest.

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The New Science Editors of the Journal of Glaciology

The world’s glaciers, many of which have been around for millions of years, are in danger. Glaciers today are retreating faster than ever recorded. Some glaciers in tropical regions are on the verge of disappearing in the coming decades. Climate scientists and glaciologists are on the frontlines of understanding how climate change is threatings iconic glaciers, impacting tourism, ecosystems, and communities dependant on glaciers for water.

The Journal of Glaciology has recently brought on several new science editors. Although the journal is now over 70 years old, it’s gained importance and readership over the years as awareness of climate change has grown. The journal and its editors cover mostly the natural sciences such as chemistry, biology, and physics as well as the impacts of climate change on human societies.

GlacierHub interviewed several of the journal’s incoming authors. They come from a wide variety of scientific backgrounds, from a focus on the Greenland ice sheets to the glaciers and water cycle of the Himalayas. Experts told us about their goals for working with the journal and their expectations for the future of the field of glaciology and climate science. 

Karen Cameron

Karen Cameron (Source: Aberystwyth University)

Karen Cameron is research fellow at Aberystwyth University in the United Kingdom. As a glacial microbial ecologist, she studies the effects of microbiota on glacier surfaces, and how they may contribute to ice darkening, a driver of glacier melt. Cameron is an expert on Greenland ice sheets. In one of her most recent studies, she and other researchers examined the potential expansion of Greenland’s “dark zone,” an area of the ice sheet covered in dust, black carbon, and pigmented algae.

“I look forward to contributing towards the scientific community by helping to shape and encourage outputs relating to the ecology of glacial environments. Over the coming years, there should be many exciting developments in this field. For example, I expect to see a surge in reports relating to the effect of microbial communities on reducing albedo (surface reflectivity), which enhances glacial and sea ice melt. I also expect to see more robust estimations of the contributions that glacial and permafrost microbial communities make to current and future methane budgets. Similarly, investigations into the role of microbial communities in cycling valuable nutrients and making them available to downstream ecosystems, will likely feature. Finally, there should be exciting developments in the exploration of cryospheric organisms for potential drug development and biotechnological usage.”

Shad O’Neel

Shad O’Neel (Source: USGS.gov)

Shad O’Neel is a research geophysicist at the Alaska Science Center. His area of expertise includes glacier and ice sheet contributions to sea level rise, which is consequential to millions of people living along coastlines experience more frequent flooding. O’Neel also examines seismic activity at glaciers and iceberg calving events, which presents a considerable environmental hazard. Some of his more recent work focused on river discharge in subarctic Alaska suggests a link between glacier retreat, aquifer recharge, and lowland river discharge.

“I was brought on to the editorial staff to work on papers related to mountain glaciers due to my background working on them. My goal is to help promote high-quality papers related to processes and changes ongoing across Earth’s mountain glaciers. In particular, I am interested in mass balance. At the basin scale, emerging methods (e.g. ground penetrating radar) show potential to reduce uncertainties in mass change. How we aggregate observations and use them to constrain regional mass balance estimates and/or inform models is another topic I hope passes through my Journal of Glaciology inbox.”

Iestyn Barr

Iestyn Barr (Source: Manchester Metropolican University)

Iestyn Barr specializes in applications of remote sensing, GIS, and modeling in high-latitude environments. As a senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, he instructs courses in glacial systems and geomorphological processes. His most recent publication compares effects of soil erosion and flooding from 1.5 degrees Celsius warming versus 2°C. Much of Barr’s previous research assesses historic glacial morphology and retreat, with substantial work done on the history, dimensions, and dynamics of the glaciers in Kamchatka, Russia. 

“My goal in working for the journal is to promote glaciology in general, and particularly to continue the excellent (and long running) success of the Journal of Glaciology. One of my particular areas of interest is looking at interactions between volcanoes and glaciers (‘glaciovolcanism’). Specifically, looking at volcanic impacts on glacier dimensions and dynamics; using glacio-volcanic landforms to reconstruct past glaciers; and considering the possibility that future glacier retreat might not only be driven by, but also force, volcanic activity.”

Argha Banerjee

Argha Banerjee (Source: IISER Pune)

Argha Banerjee is a glaciologist knowledgeable in the Himalayan glaciers. He is a professor of earth and climate sciences at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Pune. In a recent study, Banerjee, along with three other researchers, evaluated the effects of avalanches on mass balance in glaciers. They developed methods to attempt to quantify net avalanche contributions to mass balance, a feat which hasn’t been done before, and applied their methods to three Himalayan glaciers.

“My academic and personal experience over the past few years have made me appreciate the strong connections that Himalayan glaciers share with Himalayan climate, water cycle, landscape evolution, ecology, and so on. To be able to explore these connections is what makes Himalayan glaciology fascinating to me. I would love see more articles related to Himalayan climate, hydrology, and geomorphology in the journal. More studies of Himalayan snow/precipitation processes over all scales, too. I think we need to do a bit more about some of these gap areas to gain more confidence on the projections that we are making.”

Elisabeth Isaksson

Elisabeth Isaksson (Source: Elisabeth Isaksson)

Elisabeth Isaksson studies climate history and variability through analyzing ice cores in the Arctic and Antarctic. She is a senior research scientists at the Norwegian Polar Institute. Isaksson is also interested in organic contaminant pollution in snow and ice from Svalbard. Some of her previous work looks at amplified levels of black carbon in the Arctic and the impacts from climate change in the region. In places like Tibet and the Arctic, black carbon concentrations on glaciers are becoming well understood by scientists to be a strong force for increased retreat and melt.

“In the three decades that have passed since I started working with polar glaciers, the situation and challenges related to glaciology have indeed changed a lot. Back in the 1980s, we just started looking for signs of any changes that could be related to global climate warming in the Antarctic; now the signs are obvious, and things are changing rapidly. To make progress and move science forward I think that we need to find new ways of working together across scientific disciplines, which at times can be time-consuming and challenging because of our traditions in scientific training. There are also new scientific areas related to melting glaciers that are particularly interesting; one example is biological production (bacterial biomass, for instance) both on melting glaciers and at glacier fronts. As a scientific editor for an important glaciological journal I am looking forward to learn more about these research fields.”

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